As a society we’re surrounded by sex and relationships. From sexualized adverts designed to sell us products to provocative Instagram posts that we scroll through everyday, sex is something that we are exposed to daily. We’re confronted with ideas about what intimate relationships are and how they should be, either through pop culture or from what we talk about with our friends and family. This bombardment of ideas mixed with our own thoughts and feelings is something that creates confusion and sometimes chaos in our minds ― even in the most secure and experienced among us. Luckily though, we’re adults so we’re capable of finding the answers to the questions that we have. We can use our life experiences to help guide us, while also having the ability to think critically about what we encounter.
Children, however, do not have the ability of critical thinking or the luxury of life experience. Their brains are designed to be more susceptible to influence ― to teaching and learning, which is an amazing thing when what they’re being taught is safe, accurate and useful.
Sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools, however, is not safe, accurate or useful. Well, at least from an LGBT perspective. It certainly wasn’t when I was a high school student 13 years ago where from what all I can remember was watching my red-faced science teacher try to control the class as we sat and watched an out-dated and confusing ‘sex-ed’ VHS. Not least because as a child growing up gay, non of my questions were answered. I never learned anything about same-sex sex, nor did I learn that an intimate relationship with someone of the same gender was appropriate. I retreated further into the closet: a horribly un-safe place for a LGBT person to be. I was automatically excluded from the ‘lesson’ as soon as my teacher pressed ‘play’ on that VHS player.
So what of compulsory SRE in schools now, 13 years after my high school experience? Surely SRE has significantly progressed to coincide with societies’ changing attitude towards LGBT people? Well, aside from the use of a VHS player in a science class, there hasn’t been that much progression. What the government deems to be the standard of compulsory SRE consists of teaching children about the biological and reproductive aspects of sex, which of course automatically excludes LGBT students ― almost like they don’t have the right to learn about sex in the same way as their non-LGBT classmates. Furthermore, no school is required to teach children about the social or emotional aspects of sex, nor is it mandatory to go into any real depth of what a relationship can mean for an LGBT person.
LGBT school children are being excluded from SRE and the government knows it. Any reform to mandatory SRE in schools is repeatedly voted down by The Conservative Party.
Now, you may ask why should LGBT inclusive sex education be mandatory in schools given that most students in a class will almost certainly be non-LGBT? Well, there’s many reasons. Firstly, LGBT inclusive SRE would mean that every child in a class would begin to receive the answers to the questions that they may have ― to be better prepared for when they reach adulthood, just as non-LGBT students are now. The shame and fear that LGBT children undoubtedly feel as a result of society failing to go far enough in accepting and understanding their sexuality and/or gender identity would be challenged head-on. LGBT students would feel encouraged and supported ― like their feelings and instincts are natural and understood.
Secondly, it would help combat a lot of ignorance about what sex and relationships can mean for LGBT people. As a gay man I experience this ignorance all the time, from the conversations I have to the comments I overhear, non-LGBT people can be completely clueless about what sex and a relationship can mean for an LGBT person. Combating ignorance in whatever form it takes must be treated as a priority, particularly among children because ignorant children can easily grow up to be bigoted adults.
Thirdly, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying within schools would gradually reduce as students begin to learn and understand more about what it means to be LGBT ― that we are nothing to be laughed at, embarrassed about or feared. That we do in fact exist as a community and we’re not going anywhere.
Now, many may concede to the idea that LGBT inclusive SRE should only be permissible for LGBT students ― that non LGBT students should be separated from the lesson. To those people I say that LGBT high school students very rarely come-out while they are in school. The situation may be a lot better than what it was 13 years ago, of course, but it’s not even close to where it should be. Students remain in the closet because they’re afraid to come-out or because they simply do not know or fully understand their sexual orientation and/or gender identity yet. So to those people, specifically to those parents who want their child shielded from this information, I say to you that you cannot be certain that your child is not LGBT ― as my parents weren’t when I was in high school. In not supporting compulsory SRE reform you are willingly making your child ignorant to vital information that may be of direct relevance to them.
In a world where we are all surrounded by sex and relationships, we as adults have an opportunity here to make sure that the information children receive in our schools is safe, accurate and useful. If we fail to educate children correctly on this, we cannot progress as a society at the rate that we should.
Please support my petition to make SRE LGBT inclusive in all British schools: